PARIS: An 80-year-old Chinese tourist in France has died from COVID-19, said French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn on Saturday (Feb 15).
This is the first novel coronavirus death outside of Asia. So far the only reported fatalities outside of the Chinese mainland has been in the Philippines, Japan and Hong Kong.
Buzyn said she was informed on Friday that the man, who was treated at the Bichat hospital in northern Paris since Jan 25, had died of a lung infection due to the coronavirus.
His condition "had deteriorated rapidly" after several critical days, she added.
France has recorded 11 cases of the virus, out of a global total of 63,851.
Six people with the virus remain in hospital in France, Buzyn said, adding that none was seriously ill.
One of them was the dead Chinese tourist's 50-year-old daughter and the rest were British nationals who were infected by a compatriot at a French ski resort.
The illness has killed more than 1,500 people and infected at least 66,000 in China while spreading to more than two dozen other countries, sparking an unprecedented containment effort.
The scale of the epidemic ballooned this week after officials in the Chinese province of Hubei - the epicentre of the outbreak - changed their criteria for counting cases, adding thousands of new patients to the tally.
Around 56 million people in Hubei and its capital Wuhan are now living under quarantine, virtually sealed off from the rest of the country in an effort to contain the virus.
'PREPARING FOR PANDEMIC'
Away from China, almost 600 cases have been confirmed - roughly 35 of which have been reported in the European Union.
The most concentrated number of cases outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese coast, which is holding at least 285 people with the virus among its 3,700 crew and passengers.
The US embassy has said it will fly roughly 400 Americans on board the ship back their home country and Buzyn said France was "always ready to repatriate its nationals", though she made no firm commitment.
There are believed to be four French nationals on the Diamond Princess, where all those on board are mostly confined to their cabins and required to wear masks and keep away from others during brief outings on deck.
"We are following the international situation very closely," Buzyn said.
"We need to prepare our health system to deal with a possible pandemic and therefore the circulation of the virus on national territory."
She said she would take stock of the situation on Tuesday in a meeting with health experts and officials.